Origin of subaerial Holocene calcareous crusts: role of algae, fungi and sparmicritisation



The Pleistocene Miami Limestone that crops out on the lower Florida Keys is overlain by thin (16 cm or less), discontinuous, Holocene calcareous crusts (caliche) that are usually laminated, composed dominantly of calcite micrite and may or may not incorporate part of the underlying limestone. Both allochems and sparry calcite cement in the former unit contain endolithic algae and fungi, borings and unicellular algae. Biogenic structures identical to those in the Miami Limestone also occur in the calcareous crusts but are somewhat less abundant in the latter unit versus the former unit.

The calcareous crusts were formed in the vadose diagenetic environment. Some of the CaCO3 necessary for the micrite that comprises the bulk of the crusts was probably derived from solution of carbonate from a soil cover and some from wind blown salt spray. Most of the micrite, however, was formed by replacement of the uppermost portions of the Miami Limestone. Replacement involved micritisation of allochems and a previously unreported process, sparmicritisation, the degrading recrystallization of sparry calcite to micrite. Minor sparmicritisation was caused by micrite calcification of endolithic fungi or algae within sparry calcite cement or by micrite precipitation in empty borings within such cement. Most sparmicritisation took place by dissolution of sparry calcite and concomitant precipitation of micrite in the space occupied previously by the dissolved spar. Such sparmicritisation is interpreted to be caused by chemical reactions involving the crystals, pore water which is moving slowly but steadily and organic compounds released during bacterial decomposition of fungi, algae or both.

It is recognized that sparmicritisation occurs in the marine diagenetic environment and is not, therefore, necessarily indicative of vadose diagenesis. Incomplete sparmicritisation is responsible for some of the clotted textures typically found within calcareous crusts and may explain such textures in many other carbonate rock types. A combination of sparmicritisation and micritisation has probably greatly influenced the porosity of many reefs and, in some cases, led to the formation of ‘micritic reefs’.